Review Summary: “Open up your mouth / it’s the words you never thought would come out”
I suppose the bridging point between old Brave Bird and this new Brave Bird would be that the sound they exhibited on their debut album Maybe You, No One Else Worth It
was so refreshingly individual and yet undefined, in a way. They were impressive, for sure, because it seemed as if the band knew exactly what they needed to take from where, and how much of it they needed: twinkle-emo guitar lines; a driven pop punk aesthetic; and a sturdy rhythm section that powered forward like punk but grooved with a real sense of space. It was masterful stuff, honed over years of developing material from their demo EP Ready or Not
, but looking past their instrumental skill, Brave Bird had “unexperienced” written all over them on that album. What I mean to say is that on a song like “Scared Enough” they may have had a firm hold over melodies, vocals, tension, cohesion, lyrics and all that business, but when you got right down to their songwriting it was like early 2000’s pop punk. Make no mistake, however, they positioned themselves brilliantly. They proved this on “Thick Skin” and the album’s title track; it seemed like from Maybe You
they could take their sound almost anywhere and still stay Brave Bird.
(Re-)enter Matt Terrigan. The band’s past and present second guitarist is the key element to Brave Bird’s success on T-Minus Grand Gesture
. With Terrigan’s presence, frontman Chris Lieu no longer needed to dish out insanely fast, sprawling fingerpicked arpeggios to make up for the lack of density that came from a lack of rhythm guitar. Their sound now strengthened, Chris distils his brilliant sense of melody on T-Minus Grand Gesture
into an impressive set of relatively simple guitar leads backed by thought-out chord progressions, keeping the songs focused in a way that guitar noodling never could. In the same vein as any great punk rhythm section, bassist Mike Politowicz and drummer Mark Buckner provide the stability that Lieu needs for his vocals, lyrics and melodies to reach their heights, and they do it as well as the very best in contemporary emo. What does this mean for Brave Bird? They make the necessary step as a band from a promising trio into becoming a rock-solid, formidable foursome.
Looking to the tracks, “Rekindle” and “TMINUSGRANDGESTURE” provide the bulk of the record in the form of two slow-burning spectacles of what Brave Bird do best: catchy choruses, powerful vocal performances, and memorable guitar leads. Meanwhile, none of the other songs have much in common. “I Don’t Wanna Know” opens like a more composed “Too Late Now”, almost the perfect introduction to the new Brave Bird. “Hard Enough” and “Macaroni Time” see the return of Lieu’s intense guitar noodling, but the former song is a high-spirited indie popper in which Lieu recalls Fall Out Boy
’s Patrick Stump
vocally, and the latter a furious two minute blast that evolves from a straightforward groove into one of Brave Bird’s absolute best songs. There’s not too much to say about “Killer Velocity”--a simple but hardhitting indie punk closer with some Patrick Stump-ish “oh-oh-ohs” sung in lo-fi--but “Open Up Your Mouth” is a Chris Lieu acoustic track that clocks in under two minutes and manages to claim the pedestal of the
highlight of a record filled with instantly remarkable highlights. In it, we find Lieu with a vocal line that he recycles again and again, allowing it to grow each time by filling it with that much more passion like he’s pushing to reach something euphoric or revolutionary, which is how the song feels as it gets closer and closer to its conclusion.
T-Minus Grand Gesture
is the best type of pop record in that every track is so noteworthy, each carrying something distinctive but unified under a single banner that reads “Brave Bird: Better Than Ever” in huge, emotion-inducing lettering. To be perfectly honest, I was fairly disappointed when I first heard this record; it sounded like Brave Bird trying to be a bunch of different things on one short release and coming up mediocre with all of them. True, it may at first sound overly varied, too raw, inconsistent or even silly at times (“Hard Enough” sounds a little country), but spend time with it and look to its unifying points and you’ll find that every song here sounds completely Brave Bird. It’s all there: the intent rhythm section, the captivating melodies, the confessional lyrics, and Chris Lieu pouring his heart out on every single song. T-Minus Grand Gesture
is four guys treading new, diverse territory for twenty minutes and putting it down on record: Brave Bird make it clear “who they are” but keep “what they do” nice and open.